Peel councillors stand behind huge budget boost for police; will it drain funding to prevent crime in the first place?
The Peel Regional Police is seeking an 8.2 percent boost to its bottom line in 2023—approximately $40 million more than it received last year—and despite a brief history of pushing back against such budget hikes, many regional councillors offered their unequivocal support for the financial plan put forward by Chief Nishan Duraiappah.
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie lauded police leaders for the plan to address rising rates of violent crime, fraud and auto thefts in Brampton and Mississauga.
“These are some of the side effects of a growing region and maturing cities unfortunately,” Crombie said during Thursday’s regional budget meeting. Community safety—particularly road safety—was a campaign plank during Crombie’s reelection campaign in October.
Bonnie Crombie, days before the election, talking road safety with constituents while door-knocking.
Mississauga Councillor Carolyn Parrish told the chief during Thursday’s meeting she was “absolutely willing” to approve the proposed increase—which will bring with it an additional 70 officers and 50 civilian positions.
“You are putting together a police force that is extremely modern,” Parrish told Chief Duraiappah. “Right now, absolute faith in you.”
Parrish has been a vocal advocate for the Malton community she represents, working with residents and local advocates to convince Peel police to reopen the community policing station in the area, which was closed by former chief Jennifer Evans.
Malton has suffered one mass shooting and numerous high-profile incidents since the community outpost was shut down.
Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown, who ran on a campaign to increase the number of officers in Peel, said he “emphatically” supports the proposed increase.
“We’ve kicked the tires on some of the cracks in policing for too long,” he said.
The reaction from councillors to the proposed increase is not surprising. It would be difficult for elected councillors who campaigned on community safety as a priority, to turn around and refuse a budget request described by police leaders as absolutely critical.
They say the major funding increase is needed to meet workload demands and address the most common types of crime impacting the lives of residents in Peel’s two cities (Caledon is patrolled by the OPP).
Chair of the finance committee for the Peel Police Services Board, Al Boughton, admits the current request was put together with the election pledges in mind.
“After seeing so many elected members of this council run on increasing the number of police officers on our streets and an overall increase in public safety, the committee felt strongly that the proposed budget must continue to move Peel police in the right direction to meet the demands of the community,” he told council.
The response from regional councillors is a return to the status quo some residents have confronted.
For years, police budgets at the Region of Peel have been rubber-stamped with little in the way of public scrutiny. While elected officials and the police services board will claim “work on the next year’s budget begins after the current year’s budget is approved” it is hard to determine just how much “work” goes into financial decision making for police when much of it is completed behind closed doors. Early in the previous term, there appeared to be a shift.
In December 2019, as part of discussions for the 2020 budget, now retired Mississauga councillor Pat Saito, pressed police leaders for more information, sharing her disappointment in a budget document that provided little in the way of details to understand how money was being spent.
Further scrutiny of the police budget in 2021 followed the murder of George Floyd which triggered a world-wide reckoning for police around how much money is poured into law enforcement. At the time, Duraiappah acknowledged the need to put money into the social support systems—mental health and addictions, housing and youth supports—that in the long run will help lessen the burden on police.
“If you see the grassroots, defund the police movement, apart and aside from the nuances and the difficulties of immediately defunding us, or disarming us — that’s another request — the spirit of what people are saying is exactly what the police have been saying for a long time,” the Chief said in response to calls for a reckoning on how police are funded. “We are not the professionals, whether it be mental health or addictions, older adult isolation, youth based problems, to be able to resolve them,” he said at the time.
The 2020 budget—the first for Chief Duraiappah who was hired in late 2019—saw a 5.4 percent increase. Between 2009 and 2020, the police budget, on average, has jumped 4.4 percent. Despite the 2023 proposal being nearly double this average, it received no pushback from regional councillors last week.
Chief Duraiappah has said the proposed increase is absolutely necessary for his organization. He admits the additional officers and civilian positions are not enough to alleviate all the pressure currently bearing down on his officers, but is merely a reprieve to “get back to breathing.”
The statement may sound familiar to some. The Chief made the same claim, almost verbatim, when trying to convince councillor Saito and the rest of regional council in 2019 that the hike to his 2020 budget was necessary, telling councillors the force needed to get “back to a breathing point.”
The Chief made it clear the 2023 proposal and its 8.2 percent increase, is an omen of what’s to come in order to support a police force dealing with “unprecedented growth” pressures and deteriorating infrastructure.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic which strained municipal resources, Peel police was given increases of 5.4 percent in 2020, 3.8 percent in 2021, and 4.8 percent in 2022, seeing its operating budget rise from $445.8 million in 2020 to a proposed $524.6 million for 2023. According to the Chief’s statements, this additional $130.9 million has not been enough to even move the needle.
It’s a financial pressure that will not be going away for the Region of Peel, and as population growth continues, along with homes and vehicles within the jurisdiction of the force, the need for additional resources and dollars will rise.
The request is a significant jump from what was previously forecast for 2023. Projections included as part of discussions for the 2022 budget, listed a 5.3 percent increase for 2023. Similar increases are observed when comparing previous estimates to the current financial outlook presented by police leaders. Last year, a 4.9 percent increase was projected for 2024—senior officers now say a 7.6 percent increase will be needed—2025 was initially meant to see a request for a 4.7 percent increase, which has now jumped to a planned 8.3 percent. Another 8.2 percent hike is expected in 2026, bringing the total police operating budget to nearly $700 million by then (it was about $425 million in 2022; these figures do not include the capital budget).
Projections included as part of 2022 police budget:
Update projects in the 2023 budget proposal:
The increases are necessary in order for Peel police to keep up with the region’s “unprecedented” growth, the Chief says, which continues to strain officer resources. With aging infrastructure and out-dated technology, the force just can’t keep up. The Region’s growth projections have remained relatively static over the last five years—census data actually shows the population in Mississauga has decreased—so it’s unclear what has changed since 2022 to require the annual budget increases to almost double in the next five years.
“You’ll never hear me fear-monger, I just think we need to be practical about what is at our doorstep,” the Chief told council. “In a day and age when you can sign for a mortgage on your couch, but we have officers rotating through flip notebooks, it is an incongruence in terms of where we’re at and what we can do better for our community and the public.”
Few questions were asked by regional council members around long-term spending, whether money is being directed at the most needed areas and how investments are being made to plan for the future.
The organization has been operating out of four divisions scattered across Brampton and Mississauga since 1981 (this does not include the Airport division). Since then the population has grown by 221 percent and is projected to grow another 24.3 percent by 2032, according to data from Peel police.
At Peel’s 911 communications centre, the phones ring off the hook 24/7, 365 days a year, with approximately 1,767 calls every day. In 2022, Peel’s 911 centre received nearly 645,000 calls, a 76 percent increase since 2017. This does not include accidental pocket dials which the Chief says would practically double that number. Policy dictates that communicators must follow-up on every pocket dial in the off chance that an emergency is unfolding or a crime is being committed.
Communicators and dispatchers can’t keep up.
Over the last five years, the time spent waiting on hold has increased 450 percent to an average of 77 seconds. This includes those calling for a fire or an ambulance. This means somebody calling to report a fire, or a heart attack where time can be a matter of life or death, could be on hold for a minute or more before they reach a communicator to get the dispatch process started.
(Peel Regional Police)
“It is a reality and one which comes with being a big municipality,” the Chief told councillors.
A portion of the 8.2 percent increase is to hire 50 new civilian positions, 10 of which are slated for 911 communicators to help reduce this on-hold time.
Council members said the current hold time is unacceptable.
The delays continue when these calls are sent to responding officers. Chief Duraiappah says Priority 1 and 2 calls, those which require an immediate response from police, are currently occupying the majority of officer time. It means those calls that are not for imminent threats or evolving crimes—but are no less a priority for those residents who have been the victim of a crime—are pushed down the priority list.
Current response times see an officer arriving for a Priority 3 or 4 call stretching into multiple hours or even the next day. For something like a stolen car—a crime that has increased 142 percent since 2017—the victim can be waiting up to 9 hours for a police officer to arrive.
(Peel Regional Police)
These delays are the result of higher priority, violent crimes increasing across Brampton and Mississauga. Since 2017, homicides have increased 81 percent, shootings, 62 percent; assaults, 40 percent; motor vehicle collisions, 25 percent.
“Just talking to my residents, I can tell you that they feel they want more policing,” Mississauga Councillor Dipika Damerla, who was supportive of the increase, said. “The challenge for police forces is that all of us want the omelet from the police, but we don’t want to break the eggs.”
Another contributor to the 8.2 percent increase is the addition of a community safety levy to raise funds for needed infrastructure projects.
“Really, we don’t have the reserves to fund the capital,” Chief Duraiappah said.
For 2023, Peel police are looking to take on a significant debt load—$714.6 million worth—in order to construct a division in Brampton’s north end, which Chief Duraiappah says is needed immediately, as well as funds to repair and maintain existing buildings. A complete demolition and reconstruction of the Sir Robert Peel Centre at 7760 Hurontario Street is desperately needed as the building is at a “critical point”. However, the budget document does not make it clear whether this project is slated to begin this year.
“We’re maxed out in our space,” Chief Duraiappah said, noting the reason they can only bring on 10 additional 911 communicators is the lack of physical space for more employees. The force has been converting meeting rooms to locker rooms to accommodate additional officers, but is quickly losing space to further growth.
Newly elected Mississauga Councillor Alvin Tedjo was one of the few who expressed any concern about the size of the proposed budget.
“I acknowledge that policing and what we’re doing and what your organization is doing is absolutely a high priority. It is also a big ask,” he told the Chief. He went on to question whether the police have key performance indicators (KPIs) and other metrics in place to measure whether the additional tax dollars councillors have to approve are actually making a difference for residents.
“We are very supportive of policing and supportive of this budget, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves and not acknowledge that this is the single largest budget item that we have as a region and as municipality and it is our duty to do some due diligence to make sure that we are being conscious of how we are spending these dollars,” Tedjo said.
Chief Duraiappah assured the councillors that systems were in place to measure improvements, providing examples for 911 communicators that KPIs are set up to monitor not only the time it takes to pick up a call, but the length of time it takes to type out the call and have it dispatched, and these are reviewed constantly.
“Without a doubt we want to demonstrate reductions in certain spaces,” Chief Duraiappah said. “We recognize a big ask needs to show a yardstick moving.”
The conundrum with the police budget speaks to a larger issue. If millions of dollars continue to be poured into law enforcement, but little progress is being made on meeting workload demands, it could be time for regional council and police leaders to take a closer look at the single largest budget item, by far: compensation.
For police, there is no larger expense than salary, benefits, overtime and other compensation which gobbles up 94 percent of the force’s budget. These obligations are locked into collective agreements negotiated with the powerful police union.
Similar to municipalities across Canada, the budget for the Region of Peel is being strained by inflation and limited avenues to generate new revenue, aside from taxpayers. As the largest item on the Region of Peel’s bottom line, any increase to the police budget, often means a reduction or freeze elsewhere in the budget, often to services that help prevent future crime.
In a way, the Chief is actually shooting himself in the foot, contributing to an erosion in funding for vital programs that will lead to more work for his officers down the road.
The Region funds assistance for those suffering without proper housing, from addictions, and even human trafficking survivors. Any cuts to these areas will harm the “upstream” programming that Chief Duraiappah has championed since being hired in 2019.
There are already signs that these crucial upstream initiatives, which can greatly reduce crime, are struggling.
The Region’s Community Investment department handles programming as part of Peel’s Poverty Reduction Strategy, administers funds for community agencies and not-for-profits that help vulnerable communities in Peel and administers the Region’s anti-human sex trafficking programming. It is facing a reduction in its budget for 2023.
Last year, the department received approximately $15.6 million. In 2023, the budget has dropped slightly to $14.8 million. But this comes as the vulnerable populations served by this programming are dealing with “unprecedented high rates of inflation” and may need assistance more than ever. There are signs the investment made in 2022 wasn’t enough as the requests for funding from community agencies was $19 million, 84 percent more than the approved annual budget for the department’s grant programming.
There is also a drastic need to invest in affordable housing in Peel. The 2023 proposal sees Peel’s Housing Supports increasing by 9.3 percent from $141.9 million in 2022 to $155.2 million for 2023, but the data makes it clear this is not nearly enough. A reduced police budget increase could see more money redirected toward housing. The Region admits it is currently only meeting 30 percent of the affordable housing need that exists in Peel. Neglecting this leads directly to more work for police.
This cycle of funding the consequences of social neglect, instead of the causes, is costly, in dollars… and lives.
The newly elected Region of Peel Council has some big decisions to make. It meets again on Thursday, January 26 for further budget deliberations.
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